why i haven't blogged about rehtaeh parsons and how the story makes me feel

I feel some kind of obligation to write about Rehtaeh Parsons. Not because I imagine I have something important to add to the conversation, just because she is on my mind so much, and when that happens, I must write.

For non-Canadian readers, this is why we know the name Rehtaeh Parsons. From an excellent post by Christine Salek at PolicyMic:
Let me know if you've heard this one before.

A teenage girl attends a party, drinks alcohol, and then is gang raped by four male classmates. The boys take photos of the assault and share them with their school, and the girl is then bullied relentlessly.

This happened to Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, but her story didn't end with her assailants being sentenced — at all. The police didn't think they had enough evidence to charge anyone of the crime, so for 2 years, Parsons was taunted with memories of that night, called a "slut," and blamed for something over which she had no control.

Last week, she hung herself. On Sunday, she passed away.

Parsons was 15 at the time of her rape and fell into a deep depression after the event that was never addressed. While an emergency help team was called when she told her parents about the assault a few days later, no one made sure she was taken care of past that point. The police were also briefed, but after a year of investigating the incident, they decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge any of the four named assailants. To them, it was a case of "he said, she said" and that the photographs of the rape were not a criminal issue — even though she was underage. They couldn't figure out who took the pictures, they said, so no one would be charged, even those who had photos of a naked 15-year-old girl being sexually assaulted in their possession.
There you have it. A similar story recently came to light in the US: Audrey Pott, from California.

I don't have anything new to add. Twenty-first century North America and girls are still being raped by classmates, and other classmates are shaming them, and police are not believing them. Meanwhile Canadian media can obsess over the "rape problem" in India, and Canadians can believe themselves to be superior.

So yeah, nothing new to say. I just think about Rehtaeh, and I hurt for her, and I cry. Frankly, I don't know how she survived as long as she did.

About a year after I was raped, I also started having suicidal thoughts. This was not the result of depression or mental illness prior to the assault. It was not the result of lack of support or not being believed. I had been a happy person, no one questioned what happened, and I had tons of support. But a full year had gone by, and the pain was unremitting. The strange joy of having survived was gone, the crazy hyperactivity that propelled me through the first few months had dissipated. Now there was just pain. I thought about suicide all the time, because I wanted the pain to stop.

I never told anyone at the time. It felt impossible to express, and anyway, life had moved on. "That terrible thing that happened to you," as my mother called it, was old news. I just hung on.

Years later, when I did public speaking about my recovery, mostly through this group, I made no secret of these suicidal thoughts. When I wrote about my experience (my first publication), I negotiated with the editor over what we could say about rape survivors and suicide. We settled on the phrase "a great many of us".

Yes, a great many of us. A great many of us are raped, and a great many of us think about death as a way out. This is how bad it feels.

How Rehtaeh coped with the psychic pain of rape, plus the nightmare of shaming and bullying for having been raped, I don't know. Ultimately, she couldn't cope, and she found a way to make the pain stop.

I just think about her, and I cry.


Amy said...

I am sorry and heartbroken and angry about your pain and hers and that of every other person who is a victim of violence of any kind.

The capacity of human beings for evil will always shock me and hurt me and disgust me. In turn, I am also shocked by the human capacity for good, for healing, for heroism. What strange, awful and wonderful beasts we human beings are.

laura k said...

Thank you, Amy. There's nothing to be heartbroken for me about... but I know what you mean.

On a tangential note, it's nice to see a comment on wmtc! These days most people are either emailing me comments (argh) or commenting on FB.

Amy said...

Well, that's odd. Are people more concerned about privacy emailing and people more interested in convenience posting on FB? Since I have to link to the wmtc post itself even if I start at FB (and since you told me you prefer comments here to on FB), I am sticking to the old ways!

karen said...

I'm just angry. We had months of outrage and a task force after Amanda Todd died, and here is Rehtaeh Parsons living the same nightmare, asking everywhere for some help and only for the same outcome?

This entry, and the article you linked to made me wonder about the great many and the silence.

Why are we silent? Somewhere in Canada another young person is still living that nightmare. How do we stop this happening again?

laura k said...

Karen, part of what makes me angry is that people somehow believe that the rapes they hear about are the only ones that are committed! We hear about a very tiny percentage of rapes.

Yes, the great many are silent. And I reported it to the police. Most people don't.

laura k said...

Amy, I have no idea why people email comments instead of leaving them here. I once did a whole long post about how much it annoyed me.

Facebook, I don't know. Some of the people who leave comments on FB are regular wmtc readers!

johngoldfine said...

I'm reading Karl Marlantes' 'What It Is Like to Go to War,' and, no surprise, his description of his struggles with post-traumatic stress sound very much like the aftermath of your rape and Rehtaeh Parsons'.

laura k said...

John, that has been one of my private motivations for learning about war trauma and working with war resisters. Very perceptive of you.

I should check out that book. It sounds like something I would want to read. Chris Hedges' "War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" is also full of descriptions of war trauma.

laura k said...

While we're on the subject, I just want to link to this, too. A more positive view.